Social Criticism and Mrs. Dalloway’s Depression

Karrah Ray

English 632

April 15

Social Criticism and Mrs. Dalloway’s Depression

The novel is one of the best-selling novels in the 1900s. The novel’s protagonist, Clarissa Dalloway, is a 51-year-old high society lady in London. Clarissa Dalloway is married to the reliable Richard Dalloway, who appears to be distant from Clarissa. Mrs. Dalloway and her husband have one daughter, Elizabeth. Richard Dalloway is a man whose focus seems to be on his job as a government official. Richard does not seem to concentrate on what’s happening with his family and, more significantly, his wife. The novel tells Mrs. Dalloway is hosting a party on one particular night, and she has to do massive planning so that everything falls in place. She moves around London that morning, and the writer takes us on a ride to Clarissa’s past. Everything that has happened in Mrs. Dalloway’s past has had a significant impact on her social life.

For instance, Mrs. Dalloway wonders why she let Peter Walsh get away and decided to marry Richard Dalloway. Mrs. Dalloway is also stuck in a friendship with Sally Seton, whom many people think is her best friend. A wave of activities surrounds Mrs. Dalloway’s party. Mrs. Dalloway is quite aware of her position in society, and she has to work very hard on herself to live the part. The party is happening after the First World War event, which impacts the people in Mrs. Dalloway’s society (Blanchard & Margaret, 1972 P. 287- 300). For instance, SeptimusWaren Smith, a veteran, is suffering from post-traumatic stress due to the war. The disease mentioned above is initiated by Mr. Smith losing one of his best friends, Ethan, in the war in mind distracting circumstances. SeptimusWaren is referred to a psychiatrist, Sir William Bradshaw. Septimus is reluctant to cooperate with the psychiatrist even though he is experiencing massive hallucinations. Later that night, Septimus jumps out of a window and dies on the spot.

Peter Walsh revokes Mrs. Dalloway’s past by showing up on the morning of the party. Mrs. Dalloway’s history is disturbing to her because she questions her major life decisions. For some reason, she feels like she has not made the right or, instead, the most intelligent choices, such as her husband’s choice. According to research, an individual’s social life is a significant determinant of their mental health. A messed-up social life can harm an individual’s mental health. Social criticism is an essential cause of post-traumatic disorders (Edmondson & Annalee, 2012 P.17-36). Primary examples of post-traumatic disorders include;bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia, among others. As a result of social criticism, Mrs. Dalloway can fall into depression. Therefore, this article is going to investigate the factors surrounding social criticism, which eventually creates depression within the main character, Mrs. Dalloway.

The kind of people an individual surrounds themselves with is very important for their mental state.  A person’s social life will either boost or lower their self-esteem. If the self-esteem is tempered with, an individual is most likely to lose their confidence. Low self-esteem will cause an individual to fail to believe in themselves and therefore block their potential. A depressed person is unproductive, which will harm the society they are in. On most occasions, people suffering from depression will not know it until someone else confirms it. Post-traumatic illness victims are always looking for comfort, and once they discover it, they rely on it, and sometimes it becomes their addiction (Ghalandan&Seyede et al., 2014 P 482-489). For instance, childhood trauma victims push themselves to dampen their moods and self-medicate continually. If proper decisions are not made on dealing with the above two, they end up falling into substance and drug abuse. Substance abuse in the above context becomes the victim’s comfort.

Social criticism brings about negative perspectives on an individual, which creates anxiety which eventually leads to depression. According to research, social criticism’s major causes include; marital problems, unemployment, domestic violence, abuse, failed social relations like friendships, and loss of a loved one. Mrs. Dalloway experiences social criticism because she loses connection with her husband and is in a toxic friendship with Sally Seton. The people around her are also nursing impacts caused by the happening of the First World War.  It is difficult for her to overcome social criticism because of the demanding position she is in society (Wang & Ban, 1992 P. 177-190). Mrs. Dalloway is an influential person in her society, and her husband is a top government official. As a result of the above mentioned, the need to highly fake her well-being is very pressurizing. The party Mrs. Dalloway hosts is attended by many people, including people she met in the past. The people’s appearance above revokes Mrs. Dalloway’s past and brings her to the reality of her messed-up social life.

Miss. Kilman is Elizabeth’s history teacher. She is a staunch Christian, and her dressing is considered by many as boring. Miss. Kilman does not care about her dressing because she believes that she does not have to dress like everyone else. Miss Kilman ironically likes Elizabeth but passionately hates her mother. Mrs. Dalloway receives negative energy from the people around her once again. The hate Mrs. Dalloway receives contributes to her social criticism (Woolf & Virginia, 1992 P.33-50). Miss. Kilman is temporarily stopped from her job at the event of the Great War. The laying off mentioned above is primarily because of her German ancestry. Miss. Dolby thinks that Miss. Kilman will not hesitate to support the Germans who are immensely in the Great War. In one way or the other, people in Mrs. Dalloway’s society experience social criticism. Because Mrs. Dalloway will interact with members of the community whose social life is harmful, in one way or the other, she ends up leading a messed up social life. For instance, Miss Kilman was criticized because of her roots of existence. Research shows that post-traumatic disorder patients have a probability of harming the people around them because the victim’s state of mind is not in a suitable condition.

Sally Seton is in a complicated relationship with Clarissa. Sally is married to Lord Rosseter and has five children, all boys. During Sally’s youth, she lived with Clarissa because she was experiencing complications in her family. Sally and Clarissa have had a romantic connection, a kiss, which complicates the relationship they had initially. The strained relationships that Sally has with her family harm her social life (Zwedling& Alex, 1977 P. 69-80). For instance, she could not stand her family or even solve the issues causing the strain. She eventually becomes Clarissa’s love interest, which affects Clarissa’s social life because she married. Mrs. Dalloway has doubts about her sexuality. However, it is too late to confirm her suspicions because she is not in a position to choose who she wants to be.

Sally showing up for Clarissa’s party revokes all the confusing thoughts that Clarissa has had about her life choices for some time.  It’s been quite some time since Sally and Clarissa met, and it is pretty evident that Sally has changed conventionally. Lucrezia Smith is Italian, and in the novel, she is Septimus’s wife. She is not comfortable in her marriage because her husband’s traumatic disorder is too heavy on her shoulders. Lucrezia is constantly worrying because she is afraid to be judged by her husband’s mental disorder. Lucrezia diverts her attention to her home country and family, and therefore she is always homesick. The impact of the Great War causes Mrs. Dalloway’s society’s social criticism. Mrs. Dalloway falls into depression because her social life messed up and that of the people around her.

Peter Walsh is Clarissa’s ex-lover. Peter flies to England from India to attend Clarissa’s party. Peter is a man who has not succeeded in most of his life ventures. Despite Clarissa rejecting his marriage proposal, he marries Daisy, who he plans to divorce. Peter Walsh is also planning to marry a particular already married woman in India. Clarissa’s association with Peter Walsh says a lot about her social welfare. Peter has failed in most of his life activities. He has also failed in most social relationships (Wang & Ban, 1992 P. 180-190). For instance; peter is working on divorcing his current wife while at the same time he is busy dating another woman. Peter planning on marrying an already married woman says a lot about his social status as well. Peter is not able to manage a healthy social relationship with people for a long time. Peter’s messed-up social life contributes to an increased social criticism rate, which leads to Mrs. Dalloway falling into depression.

Hugh Whitbread is a friend of Clarissa’s and is present at the party. Hugh is a high class who insists on holding an unspecified position in a royal household belonging to the British. Peter Walsh and other people in the party find Hugh obnoxious. Hugh’s royal role in society is similar to Clarissa’s influential position in society as well. Therefore, Clarissa feels like Hugh is in her league, and she should be fully aware of her significant position. Clarissa’s association with people like Hugh pushes her to try so much to live her royal position (Woolf & Virginia, 1992,p.50-100). In the middle of the pressure that comes with comparing herself to people like Hugh, she ends up forgetting her needs and how she wants to live her life. Clarissa ends up leading a social life that she did not sign up for and a life that is full of fakeness and pretense. In one way or another, people like Hugh, among other influential people in the same royal position, end up messing up Clarissa’s social life. The social criticism that comes with pretense and comparison ends pushing Clarissa into depression.

The novel “Mrs. Dalloway” is a story told in a series of consciousness. Clarissa’s party takes place in one day whereby she invites a good number of people. The writer takes the reader on a ride of flashbacks that contain the involvement of Clarissa and most of her guests from her past. Most of the people from Clarissa’s past do not have very pleasing social life experiences. Clarissa’s social criticism is mainly a result of the nature of her past. Clarissa’s past explains her present character, and especially her social life (Zwerdling& Alex, 1977 P.80-82). Despite failed social interactions in the past, Clarissa does not seem to have improved social life in the present.  Clarissa does not recognize the social mess, which eventually leads her to depression. Both characters in the novel carry Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Smith’s heaviest part, and both are post-traumatic disorder victims. Clarissa Dalloway suffers depression due to social criticism, while Septimus suffers post-traumatic stress disorder and hallucinations, and he eventually commits suicide. However, the novel incorporates other 20 characters or more.

Slowly by slowly, Clarissa marvels at Septimus’ act of committing suicide. Her opinion is based on the fact that Septimus can discover and protect his happiness by leaving this world and the problems that the people in it cause to others. Clarissa has no personal knowledge of Septimus, but she hears about his death at her party. Clarissa is depressed as a result of the people living around her. It is very ironic for a normal human being to admire an individual killing themselves. Clarissa’s mental state is not correct, and this explains why she admires the act of leaving this world and preserving one’s happiness. The writer of “Mrs. Dalloway,” Woolf, does not let Clarissa and Septimus meet. Clarissa only hears about Septimus when his death becomes the subject topic at her party. The writer wants to prove that mental illness is a disease known and understood by the victims, which can happen without other people noticing or being affected by it.

Social criticism is a significant cause of mental illness. Depression is one of the effective vital results of social criticism. The writer criticizes the method that medical practitioners use to deal with mental illness by using Septimus Smith. The psychiatrist only communicates with Smith’s wife concerning his mental state and not directly to him. Smith declines to cooperate with the psychiatrist’s hospital and eventually commits suicide. The writer is not pleased with how the current medical sector deals with the treatment of depression (Woolf & Virginia, 1992 P.100-176). The doctors do not necessarily listen to what Septimus has to say and dismiss his opinions before pointing them out. The snapping mentioned above on a mentally ill victim only contributes to the constant deteriorating of their condition. Therefore, doctors should give their mentally sick and depressed victims maximum attention to avoid cases like Septimus and Clarissa.

According to the novel’s writer, mental illness and social criticism results will only be interpreted by people based on their social norms. For instance, Rezia, a guest at Clarissa’s party, does not believe that Septimus was ill. Russia’s cultural background and past are different from Clarissa’s based on their reactions concerning the matter. Because Clarissa is suffering from depression, she sees Septimus’ death as an achievement while everyone else seems pretty much the opposite. Mrs. Dalloway’s negative energy from her messed-up social life creates depression within her life.





Blanchard, Margaret. “Socialization in Mrs. Dalloway.” College English 34.2 (1972): 287-305.

Edmondson, Annalee. “Narrativizing Characters in Mrs. Dalloway.” jml: Journal of Modern Literature 36.1 (2012): 17-36.

Ghalandari, Seyedeh Sara Ahou, and Leila BaradaranJamili. “Mental Illness and Manic-Depressive Illness in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.” Journal of Novel Applied Sciences 3 (2014): 482-489.

Wang, Ban. “I” on the Run: Crisis of Identity in” Mrs. Dalloway.” Modern Fiction Studies 38.1 (1992): 177-191.

Woolf, Virginia. “Mrs. Dalloway.” Collected novels of Virginia Woolf. Palgrave Macmillan, London, 1992. 33-176.

Zwerdling, Alex. “Mrs. Dalloway and the Social System.” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America (1977): 69-82.











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